The Computer Blog

Saturday, September 18, 2004

New iMac? Not So Fast!

My wife and I traveled to the Apple Store to see the new iMacs. She had said she wanted one almost immediately after seeing their images online, and I had already gilded myself for the financial burden of buying one. But Murphy’s Law works with computers, too. Once we got to the store and she saw and typed on it for real, she didn’t like it.

“It would grow on me, I suppose,” she mumbled. Then, she spied one of those new 20 inch displays directly across the room and fell into it like a moth into flames. “I really like these,” she said.

Talk about busting my bubble! To put her in a PowerMac where she could use that screen, I’d have to double my planned expenses. Or figure something else out. I had only planned on spending about $1600 of future income on her computer. The 20-inch display would cost $1299 on its own. Thankfully, my wife has no qualms about refurbished equipment; I could get a refurbished display for only $1099…if I could find one.

“If you had your druthers,” I said, “would you rather have a new 20 inch screen running our old dual 1 GHz G4 PowerMac or a refurbished 20 inch iMac?” Apple has them only occasionally, but they are selling for an astonishing $1399 when they do. I had apparently offered her a Hobson’s Choice. She was unable to make up her mind.

If she decides she wants a new 20 inch screen, I’ll get one of those, clone my PowerMac’s hard drive onto one already in my dual 1.25 G4 PowerMac, clone her iMac’s hard drive onto the PowerMac’s hard disk, give her iMac to my sister, and transfer my dual 1.25 Ghz G4 PowerMac from video duty to my being my personal machine.

She’s been murmuring, though, that she likes her iMac. I’m not sure if that’s because she really has a sentimental attachment to it (and I understand that, though I gave mine to my daughter-in-law anyway) or because she’s feeling like she doesn’t deserve a new machine and that’s her rationalizing her feelings away. Actually, I’m flattered she doesn’t want to let go of it. It was the first large gift I…or anyone else…had given her.

Oh, what to do?

Let me move now from our petty troubles to those of a much larger entity, i.e., Apple computer.

Whenever Apple releases anything new, the media hype about the new product is nothing short of incredible. By the time you walk into an Apple Store, it’s easy to feel like you’re gazing upon the new Holy Grail. But if my wife’s reaction to the new iMac is the typical response, then Apple has bought a lot of trouble with the new design. I’m lukewarm to the thing. I like it, but not enough to go spend $2K on it. One gentlemen we observed in the Apple Store never could seem to get happy with it; he moved on to inspecting PowerBooks.

Interviews with Apple stated that the new design was designed to take advantage of the synergism of it with the iPod. That may hook a few teenage kids; but if there is no synergism of the new iMac with the customer, Apple has made a big mistake.

My wife put it rather bluntly.

“This is the first time in a long time a Mac has come out looking like a PC.”

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Mac Crash

It’s not often my Dual 1Ghz G4 PowerMac crashes, but it happened to me last week. I’m not totally clear on what caused it, but it had something to do with disconnecting a USB device. The cascading grey screen of a kernel panic appeared along with little white text telling me I needed to reboot. So, I did and kept getting the same thing.

From my experience, the most likely cause of such a “kernel panic loop” is hard disk corruption that occurs during the initial crash. To confirm it was a problem with my hard disk and not some other part of the machine, I hooked up a Firewire hard drive containing a backup of the PowerMac’s boot disk. For some odd reason I haven’t determined, the PowerMac would not see the Firewire hard drive during the boot up; I got the machine to boot by selecting a Jaguar partition on the boot hard disk and then into Panther on the Firewire hard drive. Panther came up without a problem, albeit an older version than the one the PowerMac had been running.

Since all my applications were also cloned onto the Firewire drive, I opened a version of TechTool Pro from the Applications/Utilities folder and had it run Volume checks on the original Panther boot drive. Sure enough, it detected an “allocation overlap” error in the boot sector. I told it to repair it, and it got to work.

Using Tech Tool to repair a boot sector on a hard disk is always slow going. It literally took all day for the software to make a repair, and three tries to ensure it did it all. The repair process hung twice when the monitor (and the monitor only) was turned off by OS X’s Energy Saver. I disabled the energy saver altogether and checked on the Mac continuously to make sure the disk repair was working. A watched computer never crashes. Well…almost.

If memory serves, this was the second crash of the same type I’d suffered recently. Both of them had occurred since I reconfigured the PowerMac to run only Western Digital hard disks. One more crash like that and I’m going to swap them out with equivalent Maxtors. That’s the only way I can establish if the WD’S are in some way contributing to the problem.

Just when I thought it was safe to put away my checkbook….

My wife has decided she wants one of the new iMacs. Since I’m the official “computer administrator” in the family, I’m in charge of buying one (and paying for it). The Apple Store here says they’ll have them in stock on Sept 14th, so you can expect us to go down not too long after that and take a look. I hadn’t planned on buying any new computers this year…except one for my this is throwing a kink in my financial planning. What’s even worse, I’m looking at buying one for me, too, but I do plan sell my dual 1Ghz G4 PowerMac and its 20 inch Apple Cinema display to help pay for it. (I’m want $1900 for them together. Anyone in the family who wants this set-up, talk to me! We can work out terms…just don’t expect much of a break in the price.)

I may stagger the buys so I don’t have to deal with this all at once. I’ll get my wife’s first so I can give her G4 flat panel iMac to my sister. And then get a G5 for me. But all that really depends upon whether we like them as much as we think we’re going to. The new iMac’s inability to position the screen vertically may be a major drawback. We won’t know until we get some hands on at the Apple Store.

As for which ones we’re getting, we’ll both be getting 1.8 Ghz G5 models. I plan on buying her the 17 inch version (She’s been using a 15 inch flat panel iMac.) and me the 20 inch version (I’ve been using a 20 inch screen.). Hopefully, I will be able to get the money out of the dual 1Ghz PowerMac and the 20 inch Apple Cinema LCD I want. It’ll make the whole thing more palatable financially. As it is, I’ll be paying for these things through all of next year!

BTW, once I get my hands on one of these, I’ll add the benchmarks to the AMD/G4/G5 Shootout article on my website, as well as full benchmarks for a dual 2.5 Ghz G5 PowerMac when I can get ahold of one of those.